Why Black Women Should Care About Congress Taking Away Health Care

I did not think a health care debate like this would ever concern me. Until it did.
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By Erica Hilton

In 2013, I woke up one day and was unable to open my left eye. Daylight tortured my eye. Bright lights were impossible. This was a painful interruption in the excitement and promise of my life. I had recently earned my master’s degree and started my “dream job” as an online activism manager. Here I was in the middle of this new journey, and I couldn’t keep one eye open. I made an emergency appointment with an ophthalmologist who then sent me to see a specialist.

The inflammation in my eye remained for weeks. Eventually it cleared up only to reoccur again a few weeks later. Since 2013, I have had flare ups in either one or both eyes every few weeks. The doctors diagnosed me with chronic uveitis, a disease where inflammation occurs in one or more parts of the eye. I describe it as my immune system attacking my eyes instead of the bad bacteria in my body. Uveitis can be a stand-alone disease or a symptom of other autoimmune diseases like lupus or sarcoidosis.

At 23, I now had a pre-existing condition.

Two years later, I left my full-time job to start a doctoral program. This meant a possible lapse in time without health insurance. I was 25, so thanks to Obamacare, I enrolled for health care coverage as a dependent through my mother’s insurance. But I was aware that I was quickly approaching the maximum age cut off of 26.

Despite having a chronic illness, I have had the privilege of not worrying about my own health insurance. When I was diagnosed, I was already receiving great coverage through my job, and I knew that once I started school I would be receiving health insurance through the university. However, when I did the math, I began to worry. I realized that if I did not find another way to receive health insurance that there would be two months that I would be without health insurance. Not an ideal position for a person with a chronic illness who has to go to frequent doctor’s appointments and take a plethora of medications.

Just before my 26th birthday, I enrolled in a health insurance plan using the Affordable Care Act (ACA). My premium was a little less than $400 monthly. Still costly, but it was doable with the help of my family. I was able to receive healthcare for two months and continue with prescribed steroids and immunosuppressant chemotherapy in an effort to control my uveitis. Imagine if I did not have that family help. Or the ACA. Imagine if that $400 premium increased by thousands.

“The proposed plan would be bad news, not just for me, but millions of Black Americans, especially women.”

That is what would happen under the GOP House proposal to repeal Obamacare. Under the House’s proposed health care plan, states will be able to apply for a waiver that will allow them to opt-out of some regulations currently required by the Affordable Care Act. One of those regulations is that insurers cannot charge more to individuals with pre-existing conditions. According to AARP, that waiver would allow insurers to increase premiums up to $25,700 yearly for those who fall into high-risk pools. There is no way I would be able to afford that increase, and left untreated, uveitis can lead to blindness.

The proposed plan would be bad news, not just for me, but millions of Black Americans, especially women.

Under the proposed plan, anxiety, depression, diabetes, obesity and pregnancy are considered pre-existing conditions. Many of these pre-existing conditions disproportionately affect Blacks in the United States. We suffer from diabetes, hypertension, and obesity at much higher rates than other groups. For example, Black women 20 years and older are 57 percent more likely to be obese compared to white women which had a 35 percent of being obese. Meanwhile, 4 out of 10 Black women have high blood pressure compared to 3 out of 10 white women.

I never thought I would enroll into a health insurance plan through ACA’s marketplace. I was college-educated and earned a good salary. But my job, my situation, and my life changed, which meant a change in my health care.

Black women are also seeing striking changes in job opportunities in this economy. In 2015, Fortune Magazine announced Black women as the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. In 2014, people who were primarily self-employed made up about 28 percent of those enrolled in an insurance plan through a health insurance marketplace. The House’s proposed health care plan would deeply hurt this growing group of entrepreneurs.

At a May town hall in Iowa, Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) told his constituents, “So if you’re in the group health insurance program through your employers, if you’re getting your insurance through the group health insurance, nothing changes.” This assumption is nonsensical. All it takes is one unforeseen life change to leave your health care upended.

The House plan is currently before the Senate, which is considering how to proceed. As Americans who would be disproportionately affected, we need to pay attention. For people without pre-existing conditions, it is hard to understand why this matters and why you should care. I used to be you. I did not think a health care debate like this would ever concern me.

Until it did.

Erica Hilton is a summer writing fellow for the Center for Community Change.